Mini research project on local impact of war

Contributed by Priya Atwal, Heritage Project Co-ordinator, John Hampden Grammar School

At JHGS, I have recently been working with Year 7s to do a research project on war memorials, similar in some ways to what has been done at Gresham (see post by Simon Kinder). Our school was lucky enough to receive a Young Roots grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year, which we are currently using to build a new archive, and to research and write a publication about the school’s past.

Using these newly available resources we were able to come up with a mini-project for the Year 7s that fitted in with the wider goals of our heritage initiative: of engaging our students with the history of the local community, whilst finding ways to tie this in beneficially with topics in the national curriculum. The aim for the mini-project therefore was to get the boys thinking about the impact of the war on people from the local area, whether they stayed at home or left to go and fight in the armed forces. Using items from the archive, we were able to discuss how the war disrupted and changed life in the local community; even how it changed the day-to-day running of the school as male teachers fell into short supply, or how after the war, the school opened itself up to retraining young men who became disabled as a result of injuries suffered during combat.

After these discussion sessions, the pupils were put into small groups and set a challenge of doing independent research into students who fought in the World Wars, and to then use this background information to design an appropriate new memorial to commemorate the school’s roll of honour. They were encouraged to use the school archive, but also the local library and museums, as well as speaking to older family members, friends or neighbours who might have more knowledge on the topic.

Additionally, the boys were asked to consider how much it might cost to actually produce two or three of their favourite ideas, and then to come up with some basic suggestions of how they could fundraise and achieve this. Thus we wanted the boys to develop ideas that could actually be translated into a feasible new memorial that we could place in the school grounds. We are currently planning to get an original WW1 memorial restored as well (a set of ornate wooden lockers built by the disabled ex-servicemen who retrained at the school), so our overall goal is to have both an old and a new memorial ready for the centenary next year, both of which will have been produced with a lot of care and thought.

I’m happy to say that our Year 7s really rose to the challenge and came up with some great ideas, plus some genuinely interesting insights with their research into the local community!